Winter's Heart Page 17

“Whatever the Lord Dragon ordered, I trust I’ve made my orders clear.” Every head nodded this time, and some men murmured “Yes, Logain” and “As you say, Logain.”

Toveine hastily smoothed the sneer from her lips. Ignorant louts. The Tower accepted girls under fifteen only if they had already begun channeling. The other was interesting, though. The Two Rivers again. Everyone said al’Thor had turned his back on his home, but she was not so certain. Why was Gabrelle watching her?

“Last night,” Sandomere said after a moment, “I learned that Mishraile is having private lessons from the M’Hael.” He stroked his pointed beard with satisfaction, as if he had produced a gem of great price.

Perhaps he had, but Toveine could not say what kind. Logain nodded slowly. The others exchanged silent looks with faces that might have been carved. She chewed frustration, watching. Too often it was like this, matters they saw no reason to comment on — or feared to? — and she did not understand. She always felt there were gems hidden there, beyond her reach.

A wide Cairhienin fellow, barely as tall as Logain’s chest, opened his mouth, but whether he meant to speak of Mishraile, whoever he was, she never found out.

“Logain!” Welyn Kajima pounded down the street at a dead run, the bells at the ends of his black braids jangling. Another Dedicated, a man in his middle years who smiled too much, he had been there when Logain captured her, too. Kajima had bonded Jenare. He was almost out of breath when he pushed through the other men, and he was not smiling now.

“Logain,” he panted, “the M’Hael’s back from Cairhien, and he’s posted new deserters on the board at the palace. You won’t believe the names!” He spilled out his list in a breathless rush amid exclamations from the other that kept Toveine from hearing more than fragments.

“Dedicated have deserted before,” the Cairhienin muttered when Kajima was done, “but never a full Asha’man. And now seven at once!”

“If you don’t believe me,” Kajima began, drawing himself up in a fussy manner. He had been a clerk, in Arafel.

“We believe you,” Genhald said soothingly. “But Gedwyn and Torval, they are the M’Hael’s men. Rochaid and Kisman, too. Why would they desert? He gave them anything a king could want.”

Kajima shook his head irritably, making his bells chime. “You know the list never gives reasons. Just names.”

“Good riddance,” Kurin growled. “At least, it would be if we didn’t have to hunt them down, now.”

“It’s the others I cannot understand,” Sandomere put in. “I was at Dumai’s Wells. I saw the Lord Dragon choose, after. Dashiva had his head in the clouds, like always. But Flinn, Hopwil, Narishma? You never saw men more pleased. They were like lambs let loose in the barley shed.”

A sturdy fellow with gray in his hair spat. “Well, I wasn’t at the Wells, but I went south against the Seanchan.” His accents were Andoran. “Maybe the lambs didn’t like the butcher’s yard as much as they did the barley shed.”

Logain had been listening without taking part, arms folded across his chest. His face was unreadable, a mask. “Do you worry about the butcher’s yard, Canler?” he said now.

The Andoran grimaced, then shrugged. “I reckon we’re all headed there, soon or late, Logain. Don’t see we have much choice, but I don’t have to grin about it.”

“As long as you’re there on the day,” Logain said quietly. He addressed the man called Canler, but several of the others nodded.

Looking past the men, Logain considered Toveine and Gabrelle. Toveine tried to look as if she had not been eavesdropping, and remembering names fiercely. “Go inside out of the cold,” he told them. “Have some tea to warm you. I’ll be back as soon as I can. Don’t touch my papers.” Gathering up the other men with a gesture, he led them off in the direction Kajima had come from.

Toveine gritted her teeth in frustration. At least she would not have to follow him to the training grounds, past the so-called Traitor’s Tree, where heads hung like diseased fruit from the bare branches, and watch men studying how to destroy with the Power, but she had hoped for another day to herself, free to wander about and see what she could learn. She had heard men speak of Taim’s “palace” before, and today she had hoped to find it and perhaps catch a glimpse of the man whose name was as black as Logain’s. Instead, she meekly followed the other woman through the red door. There was no use in fighting it.

Inside, she looked around the front room while Gabrelle hung her cloak on a peg. Despite the exterior, she had expected something grander for Logain. A low fire burned in a rough stone fireplace. A long narrow table and ladder-backed chairs stood on bare floorboards. A desk, only slightly more elaborate than the other furnishings, caught her eye. Stacks of lidded letterboxes littered the desktop, and leather folders full of long sheets of paper. Her fingers itched, but she knew that even if she sat at the desk, she would not be able to lay a finger on anything more than a pen or glass ink bottle.

With a sigh, she followed Gabrelle into the kitchen, where an iron stove gave too much heat and dirty breakfast dishes sat on a low cabinet beneath the window. Gabrelle filled a teakettle and put it on the stove, then took a green-glazed teapot and a wooden canister from another cabinet. Toveine draped her cloak over a chair and sat down at the square table. She did not want tea unless it came with the breakfast she had missed, but she knew she was going to drink it.

The silly Brown nattered on as she carried out her domestic tasks like a contented farmwife. “I’ve learned a good deal already. Logain is the only full Asha’man to live here in this village. The others all live in Taim’s ’palace.’ They have servants, but Logain hired the wife of a man in training to cook and clean for him. She’ll be here soon, and she thinks he put the sun in the sky, so we best be done talking anything important by then. He found your lapdesk.”

Toveine felt as though an icy hand had seized her throat. She tried to hide it, but Gabrelle was looking straight at her.

“He burned it, Toveine. After reading the contents. He seemed to think he had done us a favor.”

The hand eased, and Toveine could breathe again. “Elaida’s order was among my papers.” She cleared her throat to rid herself of hoarseness. Elaida’s order to gentle every man found here and then hang them on the spot, without the trial in Tar Valon required by Tower law. “She imposed harsh conditions, and these men would have reacted harshly, if they knew.” In spite of the heat from the stove, she shivered. That single paper could have gotten them all stilled and hanged. “Why wou

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